Demographic conditions of the functioning of peasant families at the turn of the Middle Ages
Wydział Historyczno-Socjologiczny (Uniwersytet w Białymstoku)
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Roczniki Dziejów Społecznych i Gospodarczych
Instytut Historii PAN
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rodzina chłopska
demografia historyczna
peasant family
historical demography
peasant economic activity
village court records
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The main aim of this paper is to present the possibilities of applying judicial sources to a demographic analysis of 15th- and 16th-century peasant families. The appearance of village court records is connected with the promulgation of German law on Polish lands and the emergence of the institution of local government headed by the bailiff, who together with peasant aldermen performed judicial duties. Over 70% of the village court records deal with the land market, rents, wills, matters of inheritance, loans and liens, criminal and moral cases, and disputes among neighbours. The subject of study in the present article is one of the oldest Polish village court records from the village of Trześniowa, 1409–1609, published by Helena Polaczkówna. The study focuses on three problems: the duration of the peasants’ economic activity, the size of families and territorial selection of spouses. The average duration (mean) for the investigated period was 24 years but the median was only 21, with visible discrepancies between particular subperiods. Peasants who remained active the longest were those who began their activity in the 15th century (mean – 25, median – 24). One hundred years later, this period was several years shorter (mean – 21.5; median – 20). The variations in the durations of peasants’ economic activity can also be observed in the social dimension. The average duration of the economic activity of members of the peasant elite (bailiffs, aldermen) amounted to 26 years (median – 25) and was significantly higher than among peasants who never performed any official functions. The average number of children registered in the court roll fluctuated throughout the period under investigation. In the case of 45 families whose children reached maturity in the 15th century, the mean was 1.7. In the following century the average rose to 3 children per family. However, among the offspring recorded in the court records there was a marked disproportion regarding gender, to the advantage of men, so women who are missing in the source should be added in order to achieve a balance. The observation of the reconstructed families in Trześniowa points to substantial differences in the number of children reaching adulthood in both groups of the peasant population. Throughout the entire investigated time period, in elite families the average number of children reaching adulthood amounted to 3.8 whereas among other peasants it was one child less. Trześniowa’s inhabitants married citizens of towns located at some distance from their family village – marriages were concluded with people living within 80 km of Trześniowa.
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